What to make of North Dakota (State #5)

North Dakota and I had an interesting first time together. The beginning was great, as the state lured me in with a nice welcome sign and town names like Home on the Range and South Heart. I drove through the National Grasslands, admiring the view. Local radio informed me of jobs available in the area (including hourly wages), and several livestock auctions – and the fact that one company was no longer able to offer hogs; they apologize for that. Then, the radio stations and grasslands quickly disappeared. Still, the rest stop was nice enough as I got out of the car to stretch and walk around.

Then the rains came: A record rainfall (something I’m used to). Part of I-94 was closed near Bismarck, and I had to circle around three times to look for the business loop to get through. I finally got back on the freeway, but the rains never stopped until I reached Fargo, well over 400 miles later.

This is what North Dakota looks like when it’s not pouring outside.
This is what North Dakota looks like on a GPS

I go to The Upperdeck, a bar that overlooks a bowling alley to I meet up with my partner’s friend’s cousin whom I’ve never met before. Her kindness and love of karaoke bring her out on a Tuesday to greet me. The bartender came by and offered us our beer choices: Bud, Bud Light Miller Light, and Coors Light. I’m clearly not in Oregon anymore. The host sat down with us and tried to get us in the queue right away – unless, of course, we needed two or three beers before we were ready. We said we were fine singing sober and happy to take requests: he asked for Stevie Wonder, and I obliged with “Superstition.” The KJ would keep coming by as the night wore on, successfully keeping the evening moving. When I sang, I watched the rollers below, and offered a bit of commentary during instrumentals (gutter! 10-pin!). It made me miss being on the lanes – something I haven’t really done since I started travelling four years ago.

Bowling and karaoke — two of my favorite things.

It’s a lot more fun to sing when you’re not alone, but I liked my companion right away. She used “knee high to a grasshopper” and ample cuss words as natural parts of her vocabulary.

Anything goes when it comes to song selection here. Sure, there’s the predictable slant toward country, but we also heard Disney, Elton John, Ricky Nelson, Otis Redding, and Blue Oyster Cult. My turn: I decide on Thing Called Love – my first time singing it, but it called to me. As I read the screen, thoughts of Orlando pushed forward in my mind:

We can live in fear or act out of hope
For some kind of peaceful situation
Baby, how come the cry of love is so alarming

For a while I find it hard to focus:

Whether your sunglasses are off or on
You only see the world you make

It was pretty weird to distract myself this way. Usually karaoke is a time where I think of little else other than song selection and singing. It’s a time to de-stress and mingle with friends and strangers around song. That was primarily the case last night, but there were times where I just sat there and felt an ache over what happened in Florida, and then a little guilty that I was enjoying myself in such a superficial way.

When the night was over, my new friend gave me a hug and I walked back to my hotel; the voice of the Walk/Don’t Walk signal had a cowboy twang to it. The next morning, it was still raining, but as I crossed the border into South Dakota, the sun began to shine. I’m not sure what to make of any of this.

The basics:

  • Location: The Bowler in Fargo, ND
  • Miles traveled: 846 over two days (480 on the day in question — too long!)
  • Song sung: Superstition (Stevie Wonder), Rapture (Blondie), Thing Called Love (Bonnie Raitt), Sister Christian (Night Ranger).